The Basics of College Admission: Part 2

Because our family does not watch a lot of TV, my kids are fascinated by commercials. I’m not necessarily proud to admit they quote these regularly and pause to listen attentively when the Geico gecko speaks or the Audi logo flashes on the screen.

While I could not tell you who is currently promoting specific brands, or sing any popular jingles, I do appreciate their ability to emphasize words in order to highlight the quality of their product. Cereal companies seem particularly adept in this arena.

In fact, I’m giving serious thought to utilizing some of these phrases at our next board meeting. “This class is bursting with talent.” “They are simply chockful of future entrepreneurs, innovators, and change agents.” “Packed with students from around our state, nation, and the world, you won’t believe how much better you’ll feel after meeting them.” Then I’ll do that perfect slow pour of milk that bounces off the flakes just enough to entice your appetite without spattering on the table. Incredible!

Actually, since we are on Zoom this year, I’ll probably just stick to a few bullet points and infographics with the board. But this blog is a different story. I hope you are hungry and have a big spoon because these three are filled with nutrients to sustain you through your admission experience. Part II of The Basics of College Admission– It’s burst-pack-chock-O-licious!

Episode 4: Standardized Testing and Test Score Optional

Mary Tipton Woolley (Senior Associate Director) discusses how standardized testing factors into admission decisions, as well as what students should consider this year with so many colleges either test optional or test blind.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Standardized Testing & Test Score Optional-Sr. Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Listen for the “signals” schools will send you on the extent to which tests are or are not part of their admission decisions. Ask schools directly about their specific policies and what is going to “replace” testing in their process. An AP score or SAT subject test is never going to be the thing that gets you in or keeps you out.

Listen For: Optional means optional! (It’s not code for spend a lot of time, money, or heartache try to schedule a test during a global pandemic).

Key Quote: “Test scores really play an outsized role in the minds of families.” (Close second: “After asynchronous and pivot, ‘weird’ is my favorite word of 2020.”)

Further Reading: Fair Test and NACAC Dean’s Statement

Episode 5: Early Action/Early Decision & All Things Decision Plans

Ashley Brookshire (West Coast Admission Director) provides key tips for students and families about the alphabet soup of decisions plans, including EA, REA, ED, and more. She provides insight into the college admission timeline and how students can determine which admission decision plan is right for them.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: Early Action/Early Decision & All Things Decision Plans – Ashley Brookshire” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Go to the source by seeking out each school’s website, decision plan description, and other requirements. Get organized and know your options. Use your resources (ex: school counselor and family). Apply when you are ready for your application to be reviewed. Never take one number at face value.

Listen For: Beware the traffic jam of applications.

Key Quote: “If you are assuming a decision plan is going to greatly increase your likelihood of being admitted, that is certainly a misconception!”

Further Reading:  Tulane Admission Blog by Jeff Schiffman, Common Data Set.

Episode 6: GPA, Rigor of Curriculum, aka All Things Grades

Laura Simmons (Director of Non-Degree Programs) takes on this behemoth of a subject in order to help students understand what admission readers are looking for when they review transcripts/GPA, grading scales, grade trends, course choice, and how they read/what they’re discussing in committee.

Listen to “Basics of College Admission: GPA, Rigor of Curriculum, aka. all things grades- Laura Brown Simmons” on Spreaker.

Top Tips: Study your transcript the way an admission counselor would. Be on the lookout for terms like holistic, selective, etc. to get a sense of the expectations a college will have for grades and course choice. Context is everything—you or your school should help colleges understand how Covid-19 has altered and impacted your academic experience. (For more on this check out our blog/podcast about the “Covid question” on the Common Application.)

Listen For: 20,000 transcripts in the last four years! (Translation: She’s an expert.)

Key Quote: “NOTHING predicts success in college like success in high school.”

Further Reading:  UGA Admission Blog by David Graves

Stay hungry, my friends, because we will be releasing new episodes each week throughout October. You can fill your bowl and feast anytime by subscribing and listening on iTunesSpotify, and Spreaker.

Upcoming episodes include:

  • Extracurricular activities (Impact, Involvement, and Influence)
  • Special Circumstances/ Additional Information
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Interviews

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top of the page. We welcome comments and feedback at @gtadmission on Twitter.

University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19

Listen to “Episode 15: University Scholarships in the Time of Covid-19 – Chaffee Viets” on Spreaker.

This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Chaffee!

“What is going to happen with college application processes this year?” While much is still unknown and will continue to be, I know higher education professionals are working hard to answer that question every day. For my part, that work involves considering how applications for major scholarships at our university will be affected. Part of that work includes talking with scholarship program administrators nationwide to get an idea of best practices in a world affected by Covid-19.

There is a lot of uncertainty right now. I would like to draw upon some wisdom from one of my very favorite movies: Hoosiers. Despite the obvious 1980s-era sound editing, this story set in 1950s Indiana has a number of great lessons. One among them? Focus on the present in urgent situations rather than the future. Coach Dale tells his team – which is about to play in, but unlikely to win, their upcoming playoff game – they should not even ask about going to the next stage until they have won the game in front of them. What does that mean? I will come back to that.

Dates and Application Format

Even in a normal year, I advise students to double check the deadlines when applications for scholarships are due. Why? Every year some universities change the date when their applications are due. Date changes are likelier this year as institutions adapt to the effects of Covid-19. I conducted an informal survey with a few of my scholarship program administrator peers and slightly more than half of them said “yes” or “unsure” when asked if their timeline would change.

A few years ago, Georgia Tech moved its early action due date up by two weeks. Despite notifications going up on our main admission site and our scholarship program page, despite information sessions held across the state and in key parts of the U.S., we still had students, parents, and counselors who submitted materials late. Even though we gave a few days’ grace, there came a point when late was simply late, and we could not accept the applications.

The application format can also change, and I suspect that will be truer this year than in past years. Several schools consider you for all scholarships simply because you apply for admission, but many do not. Regardless, typically one or more applications for financial aid must also be submitted, including the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and institutional applications. For some colleges, early versus regular admission does not matter. At Georgia Tech, you must apply for early action admission to be considered for our most prestigious merit scholarships. We have other institutional scholarships which are available to students who apply via either plan (regular decision and early action).

There are still financial aid applications that must submitted as well. One of our sister institutions requires a separate application for their top scholarship and the due date, at least in past years, did not coincide with either early action or regular decision admissions dates. The take home message is, you must check in early fall for instructions on scholarship applications just like you would for admissions.

A few years back, I received in the mail – yes, on paper – a recommendation form along with a letter for the scholarship program I manage. The recommendation form and instructions were from a decade earlier. Yes, 10 years! Rather than checking the internet for current instructions on how to apply, the individual somehow had a paper form from years before they found and submitted. In 22 years of working with scholarship selection processes, it was one of the most baffling experiences I have had!

Take home point: Whatever schools most interest you … check the dates and procedures for applications. Never assume two schools will handle these processes the same exact way or identically from year to year.

Test Scores

Even before Covid-19, questions about the use of test scores for admission and scholarships were being asked. A strong test score may indicate high aptitude or ability. However, issues such as bias, testing anxiety, and test circumstances reveal high test scores don’t always correlate to educational success. Over the years I have seen scholars who had perfect or near perfect grade point averages in high school and college, but weaker test scores.

I do not bring this up to debate the issue. A quick Internet search will provide hundreds of articles on the subject. Rather, I bring it up because of the debate’s possible effect on you. Some schools have moved to test score optional (TSO) situations in which you can choose to report your scores or not. If you choose not to report them, you will be evaluated on all other data available, including your course selection and availability in conjunction with your grade point average (that is at least true for the academic part of a college or scholarship application).

Take home point: Because there is no national agreement on the issue of test scores, you must do the legwork to determine if a school requires test scores for admission or scholarship consideration and if the due dates have changed due to Covid-19 complications and available testing dates. Right now, many schools have still not decided on this. At least one of my scholarship peers says their university will not require test scores, but their scholarship program will. Nearly two-thirds of my scholarship peers surveyed will be test optional this fall.

Application Questions

It is common for scholarship (and admission) applications to change each year to avoid predictability and issues with candidate authenticity. Certainly, the old standby of “pick a topic of your choice” will be there in many cases, but you need to be prepared to answer a new question, or variant on an old one, for each scholarship application you submit.

I am no soothsayer, but I suspect some applications will include a question on either Covid-19 or race/police issues. Others will probably avoid those types of questions in favor of something more distinct. No matter what you find, it’s going to be important to show your unique voice or perspective. It will be very easy to fade into the background and repeat the same frustration, rage, sadness, trite solutions, etc. Being able to express your thoughts on those topics perhaps and of course others in an authentic and thoughtful way will be very important.

Take home point: Not only should your essays be strong, but also tailor them to each school or scholarship to which you apply. For example, if one question asks how you spent your time during Covid-19 quarantine, and another asks how you felt leadership handled Covid-19 related issues, only a rare essay could realistically answer both questions adequately. Be prepared to vary your responses.

Interview Formats

This may be the easiest element of scholarship evaluation to predict. Let me say up front that many scholarship applications do not require an interview. So, this section is only relevant for scholarships that use an interview as part of their evaluation process.

If the spring is any indicator, and I think it is, we will see more video interviews this year. For large processes that have regional or semifinal interviews, moving to video has not only become technologically easier due to available software, it will save money and time. Once upon a time, a phone call or video interview was thought of as a poor alternative to a handshake and face-to-face interview. Now, multiple people in various cities can conduct an interview by video that achieves nearly the same goals in getting to know you, all with social distancing and reduced cost. To that end, none of my scholarship peers surveyed said they would use entirely in-person interviews, though a few anticipate offering hybrid options. Most said they were unsure; only one said they would use video alone.

Campus interviews or visitation weekends may be a different story. Last year we held our Scholars Weekend the beginning of March. This included not just interviews but campus introduction activities, get-to-know-you panels, and a banquet for finalists. Within a week, almost all of our peer scholarship program weekends cancelled their on-campus events and moved to a video format. What will Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 bring in such cases? There’s no way to predict this, considering the level of variance among how national, state, county, city, and institutional leaders have handled Covid-19 in their regions.

Take home point: Be flexible. Adapt to the circumstances. Be prepared for video interviews but ready if they are on campus. If travelling to a campus puts your or a loved one’s health in jeopardy, ask for an exemption. If you participate virtually, pay attention. Do not grow weary. Scholarship weekends and campus visits are designed to show you the environment you will experience if you join that particular scholarship program or attend that school. Virtual replacements can never fully suffice, but if you tune out, you will be basing your college and scholarship decisions on the shiny bits alone, not the authentic package you are being offered and showcased.

Prepare to Have an Open Mind

Remember the Hoosiers story? I am not going to ruin the film and tell you if they won that game or not. What I will say is many questions which are vital right now regarding your admissions applications must be answered by various universities before the next round of questions can be addressed.

So, reduce your stress and anxiety and focus more on what universities and scholarship offices DO know right now, rather than what they will not know until later in the year. Covid-19 has thrown normal prediction models out the window.

You have already had to adapt to life in a Covid-19 world, and you may be tired of doing so. Sadly, the world isn’t going to stop moving simply because of that. Set your mind to be open to whatever application processes throw at you this year, and do your best to meet those challenges head on.

Remember, you’re not alone—everyone else is being thrown by all this too. That means everyone has adversities to overcome and that should help you feel a little better about your own chance at success.

Chaffee Viets has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He joined Georgia Tech in 2011 where he oversees a team that selects the Institute’s top merit scholars and then develops them along the lines of scholarship, leadership, progress, and service. His experience with various prestigious scholarship programs at four universities drives his passion for selecting and mentoring student scholars.

10 Ways to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus

Listen to “Episode 8: How to Make Your College Decision Without Visiting Campus – Andrew Cohen” on Spreaker.

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, back to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

As an admission professional who oversees our campus visit programs, this is typically my favorite time of year. When we started the semester, we were preparing to host thousands of admitted students and their family members to campus to provide them with the information needed to make their final college decision. The campus visit experience is a crucial aspect in the college selection process… in some ways it’s a deal breaker (or maker!).

Across the country these on-campus visits experiences have come to a screeching halt during this critical time of year. High school seniors are now tasked with choosing an institution to attend with the possibility of never stepping foot on campus until they move in come the fall.

The good news? There are a lot of resources available to help you learn more about the schools you are considering. Here’s a list of ways to get a feel for an institution without ever stepping foot on campus.

1. Admitted Student Webinars and Virtual Events.
Colleges have been working around the clock to offer their admitted student programs virtually. If you do not see opportunities online yet, check back soon because something will most certainly be offered.

College Visit Webinars

2. Virtual Campus Tours.
Many schools have a virtual tour feature on their website, so make sure to take advantage of it. Most virtual tours last over an hour, so plan to spend a bit of time listening viewing all the videos and pictures that are available.

Virtual College Campus Tours

3. Social Media.
Yes, you should follow the institution and admission office’s social media handles, but also take a look at the various departmental and student organization accounts. These accounts are created for current students, so you will get some different information that you might not see on the institution or admission accounts.

Follow College Admission Social Media

4. Ask Questions of admission staff.
Admission counselors are not traveling this spring and families are not going on spring break vacations, so you should be able to get in contact with admission staff members to get your questions answered. You might not be able to call and get someone on the phone right away, but if you send an email, you can probably get a call set up to chat with someone.

Ask Questions to College Admission Staff

5. Talk to students.
I have learned admitted students would rather talk to current students about campus life than ask me. Most institutions have a way for you to connect with current students. At Tech we are offering Talk with a Tour Guide, giving admitted students a chance to talk one-on-one with a current student in their intended college.

6. Check out alumni magazines and student newspapers.
These types of publications target audiences other than prospective students, and can provide great insight about a school’s culture. Want to learn more about life after college? A digital version of an alumni magazine will help you learn about potential career opportunities.

College Alumni Updates

7. Use your personal network.
You likely know someone (or you know someone, who knows someone), who attends the institution you are considering. Use your personal network to make connections with recent graduates or current students. Their advice will be authentic and provide great insight.

Talk to Recent College Graduates

8. Explore multiple sources, and always fact check!
There are so many discussion boards and forums out there with valuable information, but it is important to fact check to make sure what you are reading is accurate. One person’s views and opinions shouldn’t become a broad generalization about the institution as a whole.

Fact Check College Information

9. Go with the flow.
Life is changing on a daily basis, and sometimes the answers to questions come slowly. Keep in mind everyone is getting you information as it becomes available. If a school doesn’t have an answer when you ask a question, it doesn’t mean they’re avoiding you. They will eventually have an answer! Everyone deserves some grace as we navigate these unprecedented times, and I promise, schools will get you the answers you need.

Waiting for college admission to respond to questions

10. Trust Your Gut!
At the end of the day, whether you visit a campus or not, you need to trust your gut. You can read websites, watch webinars, and scroll social media, but at the end of day you will have a feeling and need to trust yourself. You know yourself best! You will have that “aha moment,” at some point this year.

Trust yourself to choose the right college

Andrew Cohen Georgia Tech Undergraduate AdmissionAndrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

Being Seen—This One is For the Juniors

This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome back, Katie!

Listen to “Juniors: We See You. Episode 6- Katie Mattli” on Spreaker.

As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate.  How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?

Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words.  At my fingertips I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students.  If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.

So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.

For those anxious about how to start a college application, I see you. 

This summer or fall you will sit down at your computer and write your college application. I hope not all in one sitting (you can save it and review it later!). During information sessions, I ask students to imagine a scenario with me: Pretend you could have a cup of coffee with me. If we spent 30 minutes together, what would you tell me? Lots of things, right?  You would tell me about what you love in high school, how things are crazy right now, how and why you chose classes and clubs and sports teams and service projects. About who changed your life and why.  What’s good, what’s bad, what matters to you.

Through a college application you are speaking to me too–just on paper and not in person. So, here’s the tip! Pretend we did have a “coffee conversation.” Grab a piece of paper and write all the things you would want me to know, and what you would talk about if we were in a coffee shop chatting. Just make a bulleted list. Now take that piece of paper with you to the computer when you pull up your college application and start marking things off your list. This is a great exercise to whisk some of the stress away and just get started.

When what you need to say just doesn’t fit in a category, I see you.

You had to make a choice in your senior year schedule because 2 AP’s were offered at the same time. You changed schools after 10th grade because one of your parents had a job change.  You had a blip in your grades, and you want to tell me about it. In March of your junior year… things got a little surreal.

I see you. And I carefully read the “Additional Information” section of your application. This small, unassuming section is a blank text box on your application. You can share any little detail that you feel is relevant or helps put your high school career in context. You can write a paragraph or leave bullet points. The format is optional so list what makes sense to you.

There is also a separate response space to tell us about a high school change. It is not required but it is really helpful for admission counselors to hear more about what caused the decision to change schools. It may be personal, and that’s okay if you don’t want to share. But if you feel comfortable, add a few sentences to let someone reviewing your application understand the change.

For those who don’t think they can “stand out,” I see you.

A few years ago, I read an application from a student who loved Chemistry and was captain of her swim team. Neither of these attributes are unique in a sizeable applicant pool.  But her application was so memorable. She broke water down to its elements in her essay and spoke about how it flowed through her life, in her love of chemistry, of her leadership on the swim team, and through a water-centered philanthropy that really mattered to her. It was great! She stood out!

Without knowing it, she followed two rules that I encourage all students to consider before turning in their application:

  1. Does it answer why?
  2. Does it pass the Anonymous Application test?

(Neither of these are actual rules, but I still tell anyone who will listen that they should be.)

First, does it answer why? So many students want to know what they should list on their application to be competitive. I tell them they should instead ask why are they involved in a certain activity, why does it matter to them?  If you can articulate this, you can probably put together a strong application—one that is authentic and genuinely has a good foundation.

Now, the anonymous application test. If you were to print your application (you don’t do this, but follow me here) and you were to drop it in your high school hallway—without your name on it—could anyone read it and return it to just you? That is a strong application. That is an application that has your unique voice that a friend, teacher, or peer would recognize. Just like your thumbprint, you are unique. No application is exactly like another. You can stand out by simply being authentic.

Things I don’t see

Since we are in this theme, I think it is important to mention the things that I don’t see.

  • I don’t see the number of hours you put into a sport or activity unless you tell me. Be sure to take a calculated guess as to the time you spend on your activities.
  • That small typo. I’m not here to red-pen you.  (My colleague says it best, so check out her blog next.
  • The 50-point difference in test scores. I don’t care that your best friend or the guy in your math class got a perfect score. I don’t admit test scores, I admit people. In a holistic process we see test scores, but we see so much more. Don’t distill yourself to one number. I don’t and neither should you.

Lastly, for those who feel their world is upside down right now, I see you.

If your spring sport just got cancelled, if your spring break vacation was spent watching Netflix at home, if your ACT or SAT just got cancelled and you don’t know when you will take it again, if you are now taking virtual classes—with your parents sitting beside you at the kitchen table also working: I see you.

Moments like this make us feel insecure, anxious. They make us feel alone, unseen. But I will tell you a secret: high schoolers are the most resilient creatures on Earth! I mean it. I have seen students rise from situational ashes that would bring most adults crashing down. I have proof. I read your words year after year. You bounce back. You make plans. You attack problems with passion. Your words bring me joy because there are moments in the committee room when I say out loud, “Y’all. This student is going to change the world.”

You don’t have to change the world to be resilient. Being resilient changes the world.  So, take heart in these unprecedented times. Colleges and institutions everywhere send you love and support and we can’t wait to “see” you in your application next year!

Additional Resources:

 

Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.

College Admission Brief Podcast

We started the GT Admission Blog in 2015. At the time, I had a regular Thursday afternoon “running meeting” with our former director of enrollment communications, Matt McLendon. We’d set off with a full agenda to cover, but inevitably somewhere along the Beltline I’d start rambling about a particular challenge or admission issue. One day (mid-run/ mid-rant), Matt gently suggested I “write this stuff down.” He asserted that families needed to hear more honesty and openness from admission deans and directors, and my random analogies and anecdotes may actually be a refreshing way to present subjects that often stir anxiety. (Is it likely he was just trying to enjoy the run and stay on task? Absolutely. Nevertheless, here we are.).

In the early days of the blog, I was the sole/soul author. And for the first month, it was basically just my wife, mom, and aunt reading (using several email accounts to up our subscriber number). Since that time, we’ve found ways to bring in a variety of different voices from our admission team, enrollment division, as well as campus partners. The goal remains to provide perspective, insight, and helpful tips in a relatable and accessible tone–and hopefully to also bring some levity and solace along the way.

At the time of this writing, we have over 3,550 subscribers. We know that parents and counselors regularly share our blogs in their communities and friend sets. Thank you! And while we occasionally hear from applicants who have read an entry or two, we understand high school students may not always be up for reading another 1,200-1,400 words in an already word-filled day/week of going class, studying, taking notes, etc.

Still, we know from questions in and after presentations, as well as from emails, calls, and online posts, students want to get perspective about college admission. They want to know how decisions are really made, what they mean (and don’t mean), and often simply need to be reminded that the people reading their apps are just that—people.

College Admission Brief Podcast

College Admission Brief Header

To that end we just launched a new podcast, The College Admission Brief. Just like our blog, we hope to personalize the admission process by sharing timely tips and encouraging advice from colleagues and campus partners. While we’ll sometimes use Georgia Tech as an example, the goal is to include general information, advice, and broadly applicable admission insight for students to use in their college admission experience.

A great example of why we launched this podcast is my obnoxiously long (2,160 words to be exact) blog from last week. If you read it, thank you. Grit is a valued trait and you have it in spades, my friend. (Plus you now have a sense of what Matt was dealing with on those runs). The actual title was “What’s Taking So Long?” and anyone who is honest would admit they asked themselves that precise question several times during the reading.

If you skimmed a few paragraphs and clicked back over to Instagram or scrolled down twice hard with your thumb only to realize you were only to the second picture, I understand why you bowed out. Seriously, I get it. Good news- our latest podcast episode with our Senior Associate Director, Mary Tipton Woolley, covers the same content in under 10 minutes. Bonus- you can listen while walking, driving, or waiting around for a practice or rehearsal to start. (Multitasking is a skill and we’re here for you.)

Listen to “How Are College Admission Applications Reviewed? Episode 3: Mary Tipton Woolley” on Spreaker.

We are still tweaking the audio and working out some behind the scenes kinks, so just like: the world; my laundry folding skills; the admission experience; or any one of us, it is not perfect. Still, we hope you’ll find these interviews and recordings encouraging, relatively light, shareable, and at times humorous. But if nothing else we guarantee this—they’ll be brief! Each episode is less than 10 minutes. How bad can it be? Download and listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Spreaker to check it out. Happy listening!

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